Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America today. Identity theft requires
only a few pieces of valid personal information. With them, thieves can apply for
and receive credit cards or debit cards in your name. Your credit can be quickly damage
and your efforts to correct these problems can become a nightmare.
The acquisition of key pieces of identity, such as name, address, date of birth, social
security number and mother's maiden name, enable the impersonation to occur. This
information allows the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud which include,
taking over the victim's financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, loans and
social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing accounts with the utility
and telephone service providers.
The identity thief has many ways to gain access to your information. It can be obtained
from uncollected mail sitting in your mailbox, personal information carelessly thrown
in the garbage, dishonest retail or restaurant employees or by the theft of your wallet
How do the thieves assume your identity? They may rent a mailbox, usually at a package
shipping center. Then, they fill out a change of address card on your account using
the address from the center and the mailbox number. They begin running up charges
on your accounts. The bills then go to the new address and you may not find out about
it for a few billing cycles, it at all.
The thieves aren t going to pay the bills or they may just pay the minimum to keep
the credit card company happy , prolonging the time it takes for you to find out about
the problem. When they stop paying the bill all together or write bad checks, the
delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
How to prevent becoming a victim:
- Shred all bills, credit card charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms,
bank statements, expired charge cards, and pre-approved credit offers before throwing
them into the garbage.
- Do not provide personal information simply because someone asks for it or because
it is asked for on a form, questionnaire or product registration card.
- Do not give out your social security number freely.
- Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If going on vacation, make arrangements for
someone to take the mail for you or call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777
and request a vacation hold or your mail.
- Place outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office.
- Never give personal information over the telephone, such as your social security number,
date of birth, mother's maiden name, credit card number or bank PIN number, unless
you initiated the call. Make sure you release this information only when necessary.
- Don t carry extra credit cards in your wallet or pocketbook. Cancel the ones you no
- Order credit bureau credit reports once a year to check for fraudulent activity or
- Sign all credit cards upon receiving them in the mail.
- Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bill.
- Never leave receipts at an ATM, store counter, self-serve gas pump or n trash cans.
Keep track of all paperwork and destroy those you no longer need.
- Memorize your social security number and passwords. Never writer them down or carry them in your wallet or pocketbook.
- Keep track of when routine financial statements should arrive in the mail. Contact
the issuing bank or company, if one doesn t arrive. Review statements to verify all
- Never loan anyone your credit cards.
- If a credit card you applied for doesn t arrive in a timely fashion, notify the issuing
bank. Also keep track of expiration dates on your cards. If the new card doesn t arrive
notify the issuing bank.
- Notify all banks and credit card companies of any change of address.
- Never put bank account or credit card numbers on the outside of an envelope or postcard.
- Beware of telephone solicitations asking for personal information about your accounts
or your social security number.
- When disclosing credit card, checking account or other financial data online, use
caution. Make sure you receive a secured authentication key (lock icon) and a statement
that indicates your transaction is secure.
- Be cautious of e-mails and instant messaging that are unsolicited and request you
to confirm credit card numbers, passwords or other personal information. Con artists
often pose as agents of banks, on-line shopping services or internet providers attempting
to obtain this information to commit fraud.
- Financial institutions may share your information with other companies. If you want,
you can limit some of that sharing. Each year, your financial institutions should
send you a privacy notice with instructions for opting out. Read these notices carefully.
Also, when establishing accounts with new companies, ask about privacy policies and
make your wishes known.
- The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number that enables you to opt-out of having
pre-approved credit offers sent to you for two years. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT, (567-8688)
for more information.
- The Federal Government had created the National Do Not Call Registry. To register,
or get information, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register. You will receive fewer
telemarketing calls within three months of registering your number. It will stay in
the registry for five years or until it is disconnected or you take it off the registry.
After five years, you will be able to renew your registration.
What to do if you become a victim:
- Contact all creditors, by telephone and in writing, to inform them of the situation.
- Alert all banks to flag your accounts and to contact you for unusual activity. Change
all passwords and PIN numbers.
- Document all contacts and keep copies of all correspondences.
- Contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
- Call the nearest U.S. Postal Inspection Office.
- Call the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338 and file
- If you are the victim of identity theft, call each credit bureau with a national database
and ask to have a Fraud Alert/Victim Impact statement placed in your credit files.
Also request that all creditors contact you before they open any new accounts in your
name. The following contact information is provided to assist identity theft victims:
1. Equifax www.eqifax.com1-800-685-1111
2. Experian www.experian.com1-888-397-3742
3. Trans-Union www.tuc.com1-800-916-8800
- If you are a victim of check fraud, you should contact the following: